The bullpen seems poised to go through a complete makeover as it did in the 2008 season. With Torres retiring and the unlikely returns of Eric Gagne and Guillermo Mota, the Brewers have some key roles to replace for the next year. First I will mention a little about our returning players. David Riske looks to rebound from a disappointing inaugural season with the Brewers. After signing a 3 year, $12 million deal last offseason, Riske started strong then battled injuries and inconsistency for the remainder of the season. Seth McClung and Carlos Villanueva were big parts of the bullpen last year, becoming two of the most reliable relievers down the stretch run. If Doug is unable to address the rotation holes this offseason, both will likely factor into a battle over a spot, but for the purposes of this post, I will assume they will be returning to the bullpen. Todd Coffey was a nice late season addition. He throws as hard as anyone and if he's ever able to control his stuff, the sky is the limit with Coffey.
With free agent relief pitchers dropping like flies and the club held for ransom by the outstanding offer to CC Sabathia, it looks like the Brewers are going to have to build the bullpen from within or through trades and pulling players off the scrap heap. To me, the most important roles in the bullpen are the closer, setup man and lefty specialist. I will look at internal candidates as well as throw a few names of free agents and other (completely baseless) trade candidates.
I'll start with the closer position... Internal Candidates: Coffey has some late inning experience and pitched very effectively for the Brewers in September, but as I mentioned before, Coffey was run out of Cincinnati due to control issues. McClung seems to be the best candidate to me. After refining his throwing motion to be a little less violent, Seth had plus control but can still reach back for the 94-96 mph heat.
External Candidates: As far as free agents are concerned, Kerry Wood is really the only name that I've heard linked with the Brewers at all. I doubt he is a viable option as he is looking for a deal for several years and might not be the best investment given the amount of money per year and his injury history. One name that I wouldn't mind seeing in a Brewers uniform is Trevor Hoffman. Likely only getting a one year deal, he could be an effective stopgap while the Brewers season Omar Aguilar or look to address the position down the road. Brian Fuentes would be an awesome addititon, but with the Mets interested in him, I don't see the Brewers winning a bidding war with New York. As far as trades, Jose Valverde's name has popped up as being available, but this seems unlikely as trades with players of that caliber rarely take place within the same division and with only one year until free agency, this doesn't seem like a good move.
2009 prediction: McClung will be named closer.
Setup man internal candidates: Carlos Villanueva and David Riske seem to be the two most likely options for the position. I like Riske for the position as I believe Villanueva is better suited for the rotation or at least is better suited to a long relief/spot starter role as he is capable of eating up important innings. As long as Riske can stay healthy, I believe he is more than capable of maintaining leads for the Brewers next year.
External candidates: There are a number of good names on the free agent market including guys like Luis Ayala and Juan Cruz. While both would be intriguing signings, I believe that both will be priced outside of what the Brewers are willing to spend on relief pitching. One name that I see as a dark horse for Doug Melvin's 2009 reclamation project of the year. After missing the 2008 season with injury, Washington cut ties with their young star closer.
2009 prediction: Doug Melvin takes a flyer on Cordero and he is utilized in a late inning, non-closing role. Depending on his performance, Cordero may be given the opportunity to close in 2010 and beyond.
And finally, the lefty specialist. Internal Candidates: Mitch Stetter ironed out some control issues and pitched some important innings in his September call-up. With Brian Shouse a free agent, I see Doug sticking with Stetter as he is a cheaper option who I believe can be as effective as Shouse if only put in a position to face lefties.
External Candidates: In regards to players I'd like to trade for, C.J. Wilson has long been a favorite of mine, but it seems unlikely the Rangers would give up on him as he is seen as a closer rather than a lefty specialist. On the free agent market, there's the experienced Guardado and another potential reclamation project in Alan Embree. However, for a lefty specialist, if Doug is willing to drop $2-3 million in the position, he might as well just bring back Shouse.
2009 prediction: In order to save payroll to address more pressing needs, Doug sticks with Stetter.